ECONOMY, RELIGION AND CULTURE OF THE SANGAM AGE

The Sangam Age in Tamil country is significant and unique for its social, economic, religious and cultural life of the Tamils. There was an all round development during this period. The Sangam literatures as well as the archaeological findings reveal these developments.

Social Divisions

The Tamil society during the Sangam period was broadly divided into several groups. In the beginning of the Sangam Age, the Tamil society was not organized on the basis of the Vedic caste system, namely Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Sudras. However, the earliest of the Sangam literature, Tolkappiyam refers to the four divisions prevalent in the Sangam society namely, Anthanar, Arasar, Vaislyar and Vellalar, it may be said that this classification roughly corresponds to the Vedic Social division.

Another Sangam work, Purananuru mentions the names of ancient Tamil tribes such as Thudiyan, Pannan, and Kadamban. These divisions indicate the complex social structure prevalent in the Sangam Age.

 

Food and Hospitality

Rice was the staple food during the Sangam period. The food-habits varied among the people according to their economic status.
The rich had their feasts every day, while the poor took simple food. Chewing betel leaves was most common among the people. Offering betel leaves to guests had become a social formality. Hospitality was a special virtue of the Sangam Tamils. The Sangam literature describes how hosts had always been waiting to welcome guests.

Dress and Ornaments

The Sangam Tamils paid more attention to their dress. It varied according to their status. The rich wore silk and fine cotton garments. The middle class people generally wore two pieces of clothes made of Cotton. Women paid much attention to their hairstyle. They used flowers like Jasmine to decorate their plaits and tufts. Both men and women used perfumes made of sandal and flowers.

The Sangam literature refers to a variety of ornaments worn by both men and women. They were made of gold, silver, pearls and precious stones. Poor people used ornaments made of shells and beads.

Economic Life

Generally, the Tamil society had enjoyed an affluent economy during the Sangam Age. Agriculture, industry, trade and commerce made the Sangam Tamils almost self-sufficient. Exports were also made to the other parts of the world.

Agriculture

The chief occupation of the people was agriculture. Paddy was the main crop. Millet, grams and sugarcane were also cultivated. Irrigation through rivers, tanks and wells was used for cultivation.

Occupation

Weaving and spinning were the most important crafts of the Sangam period. Uraiyur and Madurai were the main centers for the manufacture of cotton fabrics. The weavers produced and exported fine cotton clothes. The word Kalingam refers to very nice garments. The Sangam literature refers to clothes, which were thinner than steam. Silk clothes were also produced in the Tamil country. Other craftsmen like the carpenter, blacksmith, goldsmith and potter had practiced their respective occupations. Fishing and hunting had also remained as important occupation during this period.

Trade and Commerce

In the beginning of the Sangam Age, the barter system of trade was followed. Generally, the people exchanged their commodities with their neighbors. For example, the people of Kurinji region exchanged honey with the people of Neydal region for getting fish and salt. Likewise, the Mullai people gave their milk products to Marudham people to get rice from them.

Later, when they began to use coins, trade picked up rapidly. Local markets came up and they were known as Angadis. Both Day Market (Nalangadi) and Evening Bazaar (Allangadi) existed in port towns. The Pattinappalai refers to their existence at Puhar. Goods from distant places were brought to these markets. The expansion of trade led to the growth of towns. Moreover, export of goods to other countries had increased. (It will be described in the next chapter).

Religion

We have already referred to the five Gods worshipped in the five different regions. In addition to these Gods, the Sangam Tamils worshipped their ancestors. They erected memorial stones called as Nadukal, They were also known as Hero Stones or Veerakkal. Such stones were erected in memory of those who died in battles.
The Sangam people had also worshipped the natural objects. For example, the Sun. Moon.. Earth, rivers and mountains became their objects of worship. Neem tree was considered sacred.

Cultural Life

The Sangam Tamils enjoyed a high degree of cultural life. Their interests in education, literature, music, dance, drama and festivals have been described in the Sangam literature.

Education and Literature

Education was common for all, men and women, rich and poor and for different communities. Parents attached importance to the education of their children. The Purananooru describes that it is the duty of the father to make his children learned.
The bulk of the Sangamn literature written by about 500 poets indicates the importance given to education. The poets of the Sangam period played vital role in the social and culture life of the people.

Recreation

The people of the Sangarn Age had spent their time in excellent ways of recreations. Poetry, music, dance and drama were significant. The Sangam poets made the kings as well as the people through rendering beautiful verses. The bards made merry in the king’s courts. The rulers and nobles patronized them with liberal donations. Hunting was another important recreation. The young and energetic took part in duals, while the old played indoor games like dice. Women and girl children had their own games to play and evinced much interest in swimming.

Fine Arts

The Sangam Tamils had also established their greatness in fine arts. They developed the concept of Muthamizh iyal, Isai and Naatakam. The Paanars or bards were experts in music. They moved from place to place, singing bards in praise of kings and local chieftains. Later, the Tamils developed musical notes or swarams. The musical tune was known as Pann. Several musical instruments were also used. Shells, drums, flute and lutes were famous instruments. Karikalan had been hailed as Ezhisai Vallavan. The art of dancing was encouraged during the Sangam period. Attam and Koothu were performed during festivals. Tholkaappiyam refers to Naatakam or Drama. The art of painting was also known to the Sangam Tamils. They celebrated several festivals. Kaarthigai, Onam and Indra festival were some of them. The indra festival had been celebrated annually at Puhar. The dance and music had its religious connotation from the earliest times.